Sunday, July 21, 2013

Magnificent7 Pt4: "Death is a Star" so said Joe

Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Vol 1

By Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta

Recommended Listening:          Global a Go-Go-Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros (2001)

It’s not easy coming up with companion albums to go with the comics I’ve been reviewing. I’m not getting paid to plug any bands, I don’t consider myself to be a hipster (probably because I don’t even know how to define one) needing to show off my anthems, but for me rock and roll and comics go hand in hand. I’ve always enjoyed listening to music while reading or doing homework when I was in school. Finding a match for essentially The Lord of the Rings of comics had me pretty stumped until today.

I started thinking about Kirby’s themes in the 4th World books, which published across 4 titles at the time and were Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle. One of the first massive crossovers in comics brought together through a singular vision by Kirby was a contemporary tale of the war between evil goods and their counterparts. Darkseid, the ultimate villian in comics (Joker might be the most fun, but Darkseid is the threat to life in all existence). Obviously informed by his experiences during WWII, Kirby saw the manifestations of evil as sadism, religious fanaticism, indoctrination by the corrupt, and fascism. Darkseid forever seeks the Anti-Life Equation. Some writers have interpreted that as meaning genocide and death, but the truth of Anti-Life is the opposite of freedom. Not content with ruling the oppressed militarized Orwellian world of Apokolips shaped in his own image, Darkseid wants the universe in uniform thought. In Forever People #3 “Life Vs. Anti-Life”, religious showman and servant to Darkseid, Glorious Godfrey’s reveal on a double splash page doesn’t beat around the bush. If the point wasn’t made clear a page earlier with a quote from Adolf, the banners displayed at Godfrey’s sermon should, “LIFE HAS PITFALLS! ANTI-LIFE IS PROTECTION”, “LIFE WILL MAKE YOU DOUBT! ANTI-LIFE WILL MAKE YOU RIGHT!” Kirby wasn’t going for subtlety. With names for his evil gods like Desaad, Doctor Bedlam, or the ironically named Granny Goodness Kirby was painting as metaphorically as he could.

So if those gods were the baddies, what were the attributes of the virtuous New Gods of New Genesis, mirrored world of Apokolips? The youthful brigade of the Forever People represented the best ideals of the 60s counter culture seen through the eyes of a man in his fifties. Super escape artist Mister Miracle, adeptly named Scott Free, is an avatar of liberation from Darkseid’s oppression. Then there is Metron, constant seeker of knowledge, in the comfort of his time-space traversing Mobius Chair. One thing that unites most of the New Gods is Mother Box. In IPhone they trust. 

Seriously, Kirby predicted the IPod/Phone/Pad without mentioning the slave labor sweatshops Saint Steve Jobs put into business. Mother Box’s soothing Ping Ping soundtrack is enough to quell the ferocity of the New God of war and son of Darkseid, Orion. Decades later and all we’ve done is customized that soundtrack. We have the information necessary to fly a plane or learn Swahili at our fingertips, but we waste most of the time commenting on stupid pics of our friends (I’m no exception).

The mistake I made trying to find a Kirby soundtrack was aligning it with music before 1970. I never got into the psychedelic late 60s. I dig some Byrds & Velvet Underground, but Creedence Clearwater Revival is my favorite band from that era, but they were young kids singing about the nation’s problems from a perceptive quite different than the maturity of Kirby. Quite a few musicians from that time didn’t even live to forty.
So I went back to my first experience reading Kirby. It connected with me straight away. Some claim to have an initial disconnect with his blocky characters or dialogue (Chris Sims from ComicsAlliance went into it lastweek). My first Kirby book was this collection, and his layouts and collages do what only comics can do. What I took away from his work was similar to what I got from William Blake. They were two creative geniuses that understood how to convey raw kinetic power on the page through figures and words extremely effectively. Blake spoke my language. He didn’t sugarcoat his poems with purple prose about love. His enemy was authority. And Kirby didn’t write punch em up comics, which can be the equivalent to a 3 min love song. There are plenty of those to go around and I’m grateful for those tunes and comics, but I prefer stimulating both sides of my brain if I have the chance.

Gotta wrap this up with Joe. I heard for the first time the Clash’s “London Calling” during Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond movie, but it wasn’t until a couple years later I learned the band’s name and sound tested a singles collection and was blown away with “White Riot”. Coincidentally, like Grant Morrison, I thought Punk was some Nazi skinhead poser thing lacking any substance. I never heard it on the radio (Remember that?), and the one punk at my high school was more Hot Topic than anarchist. Strummer, Blake, and Kirby were my educators. They were all people. They weren’t saints, and they could have all been jerks, but their work is still going to inspire the world. Smart phones are here. Bring on the Boom Tubes.

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